Rookies, friends Berger, Thomas high on leaderboard

By Will GrayJanuary 30, 2015, 11:39 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Class of 2011 extends beyond just Jordan Spieth on the PGA Tour.

That’s the high school graduating class of 2011, mind you, a crop of players who otherwise would be embarking on their final semesters of college this spring. While Spieth gets the most attention, a pair of his peers are high on the leaderboard at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Daniel Berger was on the Tour last year, and he needed a sponsor invite to snag a spot in this week’s field. Berger has put the exemption to good use through 36 holes, carding rounds of 65 and 69 to move to the top of the leaderboard at 8 under par when he finished.

“Any time you’re leading after two rounds in a field like this, you’re pretty happy,” Berger said. “I was lucky enough to get a sponsor exemption in here. Just thankful for the opportunity.”

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Berger earned his card at last year’s Tour Finals, and made his first PGA Tour start after qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open. He went on to card the low score of the final round at Pinehurst No. 2 and finished T-28.

Like Berger, Justin Thomas is 21. The two competed in college, Berger at Florida State and Thomas at Alabama, and both are now residents of Jupiter, Fla. Thomas, too, is the recipient of a sponsor exemption this week and making the most of his opportunity.

“I’m very pleased. I played really well the last two days,” said Thomas, who sits one shot behind Berger at 7 under. “I think the important thing for me is I managed my mistakes well. When I got in trouble, I just kept it in front of me and just tried to salvage as many pars as I can.”

Thomas is in the midst of a remarkable stretch to begin his rookie season. He shot a 61 en route to a T-6 finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii, then finished T-7 last week at the Humana Challenge. Yet he was frustrated by his result in Palm Springs, where a double bogey on the 70th hole cost him a share of the lead.

“I was definitely upset,” he said. “The four-hour drive the next day gave me plenty of time to think about it here, too. That’s just part of the learning curve.”

While Berger admits that Thomas got the best of him when they went head-to-head in college, he hopes to get a crack at his friend and frequent practice-round partner this weekend.

“We get to play a lot of golf together. We’re good buddies, we hang out all the time,” Berger said. “Hopefully we get to play together tomorrow.”

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.